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Danton Heinen Not Worth $3 Million to the Penguins

The Pittsburgh Penguins should not bring Danton Heinen back at $3 million.

The Pittsburgh Penguins are in a precarious position. They are down to $10.3 million in cap space and are about to watch one of their franchise cornerstone centers test the free agent market for the first time in his career. Because of that, general manager Ron Hextall needs to be frugal with his remaining cap space.

The Penguins chose not to extend a qualifying offer to Danton Heinen, allowing him to walk to unrestricted free agency. Heinen spent last season on a "prove it" contract with the Penguins, making $1.1 million on a one-year deal.

According to The Athletic's Josh Yohe, Heinen is looking for something around the $3 million range for his next contract. Before signing with Pittsburgh, his previous contract was a two-year deal worth $2.8 million per season.

Last season, Heinen finished with 33 points (18-15) in 76 games with the Penguins. The 27-year-old winger finished tied for second on the team in even strength goals (15) and was an option for head coach Mike Sullivan as a top-six injury replacement.

Heinen scored one of the most important goals of the Penguin's first-round series against the New York Rangers. In the third period of game three, Heinen shuffled the puck through the legs of Rangers goalie Alexander Georgiev to put the Penguins back in front after giving up a three-goal lead. That goal would serve as the game-winning goal and give the Penguins a 2-1 series lead.

While he was an important depth piece on last year's team, Heinen is not worth $3 million to the Penguins next season. 

The main reason this would be too expensive is his special teams or lack thereof. Heinen played minimal minutes on the Penguin's second power-play unit, struggling to stay on in favor of Evan Rodrigues and Kasperi Kapanen. He also played next to no time on the penalty kill, making it hard to keep him in the bottom six. 

Consistency also became an issue last season with Heinen. After scoring nine goals in his first 30 games, Heinen went cold just as the Penguins promoted him onto the second line with Evgeni Malkin. While the duo created solid underlying numbers (58.68 expected goals for percentage according to Natural Stat Trick), their finishing ability wasn't there.

After his hot start, Heinen struggled the following 30 games, scoring just four goals. Two of those goals came in a game where he returned to Boston, against the Bruins. Unfortunately, his cold streak coincided with his playing time on Malkin's line, and he was demoted due to his struggles with finishing and his untimely lapses in defensive judgment.  

Heinen spent a few games in Sullivan's proverbial "dog house," averaging under 10 minutes in five of his next six games, but found his scoring touch again before the end of the regular season. In his final 16 games, Heinen scored five more times.

While Heinen would be a fantastic even-strength player for the Penguins next season, it doesn't make sense to bring him back at the reported $3 million he is looking to make. Scoring inconsistencies and a lack of special teams play lower his value on a Penguins team that will primarily use him in a bottom six role.

The NHL free agent market opens on Wednesday at noon, so we will see if another team decides to pay Heinen or if he eventually lowers his desired salary to return to Pittsburgh. 

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